Potted Plant Owl Returns: New Baby Owls Born After First Set of Eggs Didn't Hatch
You wouldn’t generally expect super-urban Johannesburg to be the setting for an amazing wildlife story. Yet we are perhaps too quick to forget that humans are not the only creatures to have adapted to urban life as cities continue to expand across more and more of our Planet’s surface.
Owls have been among the most successful in this regard, and the now famous Potted Plant Owl - winner of the 'International Owl of the Year' for 2012 - has become their lead ambassador, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world.
The Potted Plant Owl (aka PPO) is a Spotted Eagle Owl, who began visiting the balcony of Tracy and Allan Eccles’ new apartment the evening that they moved in, back in 2005. For three years, the couple watched a pair of owls flying in the neighbourhood, frequently visiting their balcony. In August 2008, the couple were taken by surprise when PPO arrived on their balcony one morning – and laid an egg in the potted plant container. Over the next 3 months the couple documented the owls’ daily lives, taking more than 2,000 photos and streaming video footage via a webcam. The bird soon became a You tube sensation.
While it is not uncommon for owls to nest in man-made structures and often return to the same nesting spot each year, PPO is considered unique in the bond that she has established with the owners of the home while still maintaining her natural instincts and remaining wild and completely untame.
Dr Mark Brown, an ornithologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal says that these owls have ‘natal recognition’ and are likely to have owlets in a similar setting to that which they were born in themselves, suggesting that PPO has a family history of survival in the seemingly forbidding Johannesburg urban environment.
Even more than this, The Potted Plant Owl played a pivotal role in preserving one of the few natural open spaces still left in the city. In 2009 the wetland next to the Eccles’ house, an important hunting ground for local owls, was under threat from a city developer. But through media and public support based on PPO’s popularity, the Eccles' managed to get 27,000 signatures on a petition that assisted in stopping the proposed developments and preserve the wetland.
And five years on, The Potted Plant Owl continues to triumph in the face of urban adversity. Recently there was widespread concern when she laid a clutch of eggs in October that did not hatch. At the advice of expert ornithologists in Europe, the unhatched eggs were opened and proved to be infertile. There was some doubt as to whether PPO would ever be able to breed successfully again.
Luckily, we humans were proven wrong. At the beginning of November, late in the year for owls to be breeding, she laid a second clutch of two eggs, and both of the eggs hatched successfully.
The webcam now shows a very protective and caring mother raising her two beautiful young owlets in her adopted urban home. PPO doesn’t seem to have given up on the city life just yet.